Travel Tips For Large Families
Traveling with a family can be a challenge, but traveling with a large family can bring a whole host of challenges! This past winter, our family of six traveled from Austin to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on our longest road trip yet. We not only survived our journey, but all of our kids were clamoring for another trip and adventure as soon as we got home. I thought I’d share my travel tips and tricks for spending less time stressing, and more time enjoying your vacation!
The Planning Stage– like anything else with a big family, the more you plan in advance, the better things are likely to go. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do things on a whim with a big group, but preparing and planning go a long way towards a smoother time.
- Where to go? It’s really important that you choose a destination that works for your family. With so many opinions to consider, it can be tough to line out a location that will make everyone happy. Choosing a few contenders, then researching things you can do there (if we go here we can also stop by Lego Land and the zoo, if we go here we can do a day at Sea World and the beach) might help your kids feel that they have something to look forward to even if they don’t really love the locale.
- Where to stay? Choosing where to stay can be as important as deciding where you’re traveling. I really cannot sing enough praises for AirBNB if you have a large family or group. Since we have six people in our family, if we stay in hotels we have to get two rooms or a large suite-that can be pricey. For our Colorado trip, we decided to try out AirBNB, and since we booked almost a year in advance, we got a great deal. We had a house, we could bring our dogs, we could play games, the kids had their own rooms to escape to, we had a laundry room- which is hugely important with so many people, we had a full kitchen…. staying in an AirBNB, our trip was way more affordable and way more convenient (and also way more fun!). Of course, that’s not an option for everyone, so if you do stay in a hotel, book early. Join their rewards club for extra perks. Be sure you call in advance to request a pack’n’play if you need one (bring some disinfectant wipes to clean it off first), and be sure to ask for extended check out. Some hotels are super family friendly (hello free breakfast!!) and some are not so much, so do your research.
- Book early. Have you ever shown up to a restaurant with a group of twelve and had to wait a realllly long time for tables? Yeah, everything is like that when you’re rolling large and in charge with a bunch of kids. A family of four might be able to grab their tickets online the day before, but a family of 6 or 8….not so much. Also, with a big family, you’re probably also juggling a bigger calendar of events, practices, appointments, performances….if you know the dates of your trip way in advance, then you can schedule things around it. I’d suggest a minimum of six months advance notice, but twelve to eighteen is really ideal.
- Make a loose itinerary. Yes, itineraries for trips can be annoying. We’ve all known someone who wants to plan out every second of free time with this exhibit, or that museum, no matter what the family wants to do. That’s why I say LOOSE itinerary. You need to have an idea of what each day will look like. The last thing you want to do is have kids sitting around a hotel room bored and grumpy, while you and your husband debate over what you’re going to do that day. And, you need to be flexible- kids can get sick, shows can sell out, maybe you all decide you’d rather spend an extra day at the beach than the proposed amusement park day- that’s ok! Having a loose itinerary allows you to make any large reservations you need, be sure that each person gets to do their preferred activity, prepare for the next day’s activities such as packing up the gear, waking up early, making sandwiches for the picnic the next day, and ensure that there is downtime each day for anyone who needs it.
Traveling–traveling with a large family is perhaps the most daunting part of taking trips, especially with young kids. Like anything else, the more you plan and are prepared, the better time your family will have. Our longest road trip was about fifteen hours in the van, with six people and two little dogs. We survived! No one cried, complained, or got too bored- it is possible!
- Entertainment is key. We task each kid with gathering up some things that will keep them occupied not only in the car, but during downtime at the location as well. Then each row (back row, middle row) has to share an “Entertainment Bag” full of their stuff. Books are great if your kids don’t get carsick while reading. You can try picture find it books, likeWhere’s Waldo or look and finds. We love coloring books, mad libs, invisible ink books. I usually pick up a few dollar store finds (word searches, maze books, small magnetic games) before a trip so they have something new to enjoy. Here are a few awesome lists to help fill up those entertainment bags: Busy Bag Ideas for Road Trips and DIY Kids Travel Activity Kits.
- Leaving on a jet plane! Flying with kids is daunting. We’ve all seen posts on social media where someone is complaining about someone’s “demon child” terrorizing them on a flight…Kids are completely thrown out of their element with flying, and it can actually be scary for them. Having snacks, entertainment, gum or lollipops for takeoff and landing, spill proof cups, last resort electronics, and a sense of humor will all make your flight easier. Here is a fantastic list of things you may not have thought about while flying with kids: 22 Tips for Flying with Toddlers and Little Kids Without Losing Your Mind.
- Food. Food. Food. Our kids are 5, 10, 13, and 16. Keeping two teenage boys fed while traveling without breaking the bank is a challenge, so we always pack tons of food for the car. We make sandwiches and bring them in a cooler bag, as well as yogurts and applesauce packs. I stock up on snack foods in advance and bag them up separately (a carton of goldfish nets twenty snack bags for us). Since my husband and I are the ones driving, we get candy, soda, coffee, and beef jerky. The kids bring their own reusable water bottles and drink water all day. This saves us a ton of money, as six people eating even cheaply can be $20-$30 a meal.
- Potty break! Some people want to barrel down the highway with only one designated eat/gas up/go to the bathroom break (that’s me). Other people would rather stop here and there to stretch their legs, take a leisurely bathroom break, peruse the gourmet beef jerky while scoffing at the price (that’s my husband). Fortunately our kids are accustomed to traveling and can handle either method. But most kids need frequent breaks to use the bathroom, get out of the car, and get some wiggles out. Be flexible and prepared to take twice as many pit stops as you think you’ll need. (And bring changes of clothes, bags, paper towels, and wipes just in case you can’t find an exit in time for your littlest one.)
- Electronics- a necessary evil? As I mentioned, my kids can’t read in the car or they get headaches or even throw up. And looking for out of state license plates gets old after awhile. So we always bring devices for the kids, with movies and TV shows downloaded from iTunes, Prime TV, and Netflix, as well as games. We don’t let them use the devices until we’ve been on the road for at least an hour or two, and they have to take screen breaks. So they really are only playing a little bit every few hours, depending on how long our trip is. Once we get to our destination we will usually forbid screens at all until we head back home. I’m pretty strict about screen time, but when kids are stuck in a vehicle for hours on end, I do flex the rules. Don’t worry, I mix in plenty of griping every time about how they should “just look out the window! When I was a kid that’s all we had!”
Vacation Time! You’ve finally arrived! Here are a few more tips to get the most out of your trip with your family.
- Unpack first. It’s tempting to leave some of the bags in the car or just throw the kids on a couch in front of a television, but it’s really most efficient to get everything put away first. Especially if you will be staying somewhere for more than a couple of days, having the kids help carry things in and unpack their belongings gives them a sense of responsibility and instills the notion that “we can have fun when the work is done.”
- Communicate the plan. Maybe you’ve typed up your itinerary, or maybe you can make a version with pictures for younger kids- if you post this somewhere in your hotel room or rental house, it will alleviate some of the “but when are we going to the zoo???” tantrums and endless requests. If your kids are older, you can probably just talk to them, but even then some kids are barely listening half the time (ahem, teenagers) and will have no idea that today is get-up-early-and-drive-to-see-that-weird-castle day, even if you told them last night.
- Have balance with pictures. This one is tough for me, but I’m always trying to improve. First, it is important to get at least one group picture of the whole family. You will want to be able to look back fondly on your experience. And make sure that the one group picture you have doesn’t have someone’s thumb in the corner and blurry faces. Sigh. Secondly, it’s important to get YOU in some pictures. I have entire trips (okay, months) in my life where there are tons of pictures of my adorable kids and zero of me. Work up the nerve, even if you feel silly, to ask someone to take a picture of you- with the kids, with your spouse, in front of the gorgeous sunset, whatever. Lastly- you don’t have to take pictures of everything. I try to take a picture of the plaque identifying the landmark, or the funky restaurant sign, so that I will remember exactly where we were, and maybe a group shot or capture an important moment (first time petting a giraffe! First time walking on the beach!) but then I try to put my phone away and just BE there. It’s hard, y’all. But we have to do it.
- BE FLEXIBLE. I keep mentioning flexibility, but that’s because when you have a large family being flexible has to be the default. Things will go wrong. Plans will fall through. With so many people, the odds of having a problem increase! That’s okay. It’s more important that your kids see that even if things don’t work out, we still had fun and focused on the positive. Modeling a positive attitude and a growth mindset in any situation, including family travel, will benefit them more in life than the most beautiful and perfectly executed trip ever could.
We’d love to hear your tips about traveling with large families in the comments!